Category Archives: Civilian Worker Stories

Arthur Burleigh

The Maintenance Crew in front of a Dakota aeroplane. Arthur Burleigh is front row, fifth from the left.

Arthur Burleigh worked as a civilian Chargehand Airframe Fitter on the Airfield for twenty years from 1940 until it’s closure in December 1960. He worked on the service and maintenance of the aeroplanes in the hangers. Arthur was also a member of the Royal Observer Corps based on the Airfield. He was Chairman of Silloth Football Club from 1950 to 1960. The team used to play their games at the Bank Ends pitch in West Silloth in a field behind Golf Terrace, next to the golf links. George Doughty will no doubt remember this as he played for Silloth F.C at the time. In 1953 they moved to their current pitch in the Eden Street playing field and a new changing room shed was erected, which Arthur helped to obtain from the Silloth Airfield. These changing rooms were used for many years and will be familiar to players and spectators alike. When the Airfield closed in December 1960 Arthur transferred to Wroughton Airfield near Swindon in Wiltshire, where Betty also later worked.

The Silloth Royal Observer Corps around 1940
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Aircraft on the Airfield during WW2.
Aircraft under maintenance in a hanger WW2
One of the Hangers under construction in 1939.
Arial photo of the Airfield showing the Maintenance Hangers and Control Tower.
Aerial photo of Silloth, showing aircraft parked in the fields around the Airfield during WW2.
A map showing the location of the RAF Quarters sites in Silloth during WW2.
Commemorative stone in memory of Silloth Airfield and all who worked there from 1939 to 1960
 Note:

Arthur and Betty’s house in Silloth 3, Hylton Terrace was bought by Lawrence and Mary Marshall in May 1962.  Arthur passed away in December 2007 aged 96.

Acknowledgement

The above information is from Arthur and Betty Burleigh’s archives. Many thanks to their son, Ken Burleigh, for sending.

Betty Burleigh

  WAAF at RAF Silloth

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Betty Burleigh joined the WAAF in 1942 and was stationed at the Silloth Airfield RAF Camp from 12th April 1945 to 19th October 1945 as a Corporal in charge of the WAAF personnel, who were billeted at the time in The Solway Hotel. She worked in the RAF HQ Office on the Airfield, mainly controlling  the movement of vehicles entering and leaving the Airfield. Betty was demobbed in late 1945.

Airfield Control Tower

 Betty later worked as a civilian Radio Telephonist in The Silloth Airfield Control Tower from 1955 to 1960. There were three shifts, 6am – 2pm, 2pm – 10pm and 10pm – 6am, which were rotated between ten Radio telephonists. They were supervised by Flight Lieutenant Cybulski from the Polish Air Force, who worked days. Betty’s duties were to take messages from pilots to pass onto the Flight Lieutenant, log aircraft in and out and give instructions to aircraft to land and take off. 

One memory of the day was when Cliff Richard landed at the Airfield in 1959. Word quickly got around that he was in the Officers Mess waiting for his aircraft to be refuelled. One of the Airfield Control Tower girls phoned to speak to him and to prove it was him he sang a line over the phone from his hit song of the day Living Doll. The girl then asked the Flight Lieutenant if she could meet him. The Flight lieutenant obtained permission and she was allowed to see him. Betty was on duty at the time and can remember how excited her colleague was when she returned to the Control Tower. Not sure where Cliff’s destination was, but someone might remember. Betty is now 94 (September 2015).

Betty Burleigh (Airfield Control Tower) Photos

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Betty Burleigh in the Operations Room of the Airfield Control Tower 1950’s.
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Betty Burleigh and her colleague Margaret Bilton on the roof of the Airfield Control Tower 1950’s.
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22 Maintenance Unit / RAF Badge presented to Betty Burleigh.
The Fire Crew taken in 1953 in front of the Control Tower.
The Control Tower taken in 1982 before it was demolished.
The Control Tower taken in 1982 before it was demolished.
Note

Betty and Arthur Burleigh’s house in Silloth 3, Hylton Terrace was bought by Lawrence and Mary Marshall in May 1962.  Betty’s husband, Arthur, passed away in December 2007 aged 96.

Acknowledgement

The above information is from Arthur and Betty Burleigh’s archives. Many thanks to their son, Ken Burleigh, for sending.

Ernie Barrett

He said we had to ‘make do and mend’ as well:

“We maintained Bristol ‘Beauforts’ in the open, and even made spanners for the Bristol ‘Taurus’ sleeve valve engines plug lead connections because we were told that none were available.”

Extracted from RAF Silloth – Wartime memories of the men and women who knew the airfield at Silloth when it was operational. Ed. Maggie Clowes. Retyped by Chris Graham.

A. Kazer

 “After doing the usual rounds of signing in we were allocated to ‘watches ‘ – much of the traditions of the RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service) seem to have survived into Coastal Command. On a morning watch we would parade in the hangar for prayers by the chaplain and then allocated duties. The watch system gave 1 day off in 8. The work was fairly routine – daily inspections, in between flight inspections, refuelling, plug changes but even this could be difficult since there was a general shortage of tools and overalls. Coins of the realm were much in evidence when removing and replacing engine cowlings. There was also a shortage of aircraft covers which often meant leaving aircraft overnight exposed to the elements and in the morning it was virtually impossible to start the aircraft engines without the prolonged use of hot air blowers. One other job I recall was emptying 4 gallon petrol cans into the main station petrol tank – these were leftovers from the unsuccessful Norwegian campaign. On the night watch for our meal we would be marched down to the Airmen’s Mess which was situated about ¼ – ½ mile from the main camp, the meals were good and you seldom needed to make use of the NAAFI. A YMCA van used to call during the night watch.”

Pay parade was near the SWO’s (Jack Sutherland?) office. Coming where he did in the alphabet he said:

“There were so many Johns and Jones I thought my turn would never come.”

Extracted from RAF Silloth – Wartime memories of the men and women who knew the airfield at Silloth when it was operational. Ed. Maggie Clowes. Retyped by Chris Graham.

Kenneth Bore

Kenneth Bore

He was called up with the first batch of the 19 year age group and did his initial training at Padgate and technical training at Halton as a Flight Mechanic (Air Frames).

“The unit was run on a 3 flight basis: ‘A’ flight flying Lockheed Hudson aircraft was concerned with the training of pilots; ‘B’ flight flying Airspeed Oxford and Avro Anson aircraft trained Wireless Operators, Navigators and Air Gunners. There was also a Fairey Battle aircraft on site for air to air target towing operators for air gunner training.”

 He doesn’t tell us the aircraft used by ‘C’ flight.

Extracted from RAF Silloth – Wartime memories of the men and women who knew the airfield at Silloth when it was operational. Ed. Maggie Clowes. Retyped by Chris Graham.

Heather Wood Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA)

Silloth Resident

Heather Wood was a well known resident in Silloth, who was a member of  the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) during WW2.

Click images below to enlarge.
Images above curtesy of Tim Barker Archives.

What was the ATA?

As Heather Wood’s Certificate above indicates, ferry pools were set up to ferry planes from one location to another, related to the ‘Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and for air transport tasks auxiliary to the War effort.’  Male and female civilian pilots attached to the ATA would arrive at a factory to pick up brand new planes and take them to a maintenance unit such as 22MU in Silloth. (Similar to other maintenance units, Silloth 22MU had been set up in an area thought to be as far away as possible from where enemy bombers were thought to reach.)

After the plane’s maintenance was completed, another civilian pilot was sent to Ferry Control to fly it to the front line Squadron, which could be anywhere in the UK.  If the plane got damaged in battle or needed overhauling, another civilian pilot would take it to a repair or maintenance unit, such as Silloth 22 MU, while another would deliver the serviceable plane to keep the squadron up to strength.

The basic principle of women in the ATA was achieved in 1939 through the diplomacy of Pauline Gower, Head of the Women’s Section. Women  pilots were initially restricted to non-combat types of work (trainers and transports), but they were eventually permitted to fly virtually every aircraft flown by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm, including four-engined heavy bombers such as Lancasters.

ATA work was dangerous for men and women taking up the role of ferry pool pilots. Some were shot at by the enemy and also, occasionally, by their own side. However, weather was their biggest enemy. Silloth aerodrome was particularly risky because of its situation on the Solway as well as being so close to the Lake District Fells.

“People often marvel at the fact that the ferry pilots flew in the ever-changing British weather without radios or navigation aids, in the days before SatNav. Flight instruments showed how fast or high they were flying. However, because ATA pilots were required to stay within sight of the ground, they were never taught the art of flying instruments – flying blind” […] “Only when ATA started flying into Europe after D-Day in 1944 were its pilots given courses in how to use radios. Their call sign was ‘Ferdinand the Bull’.” (Hyams, Jacky, The Female View (2012).

The fascinating inside story of the WW2 British Air Transport Auxillary (A.T.A.) told in the videos below feature interviews with many of the surviving pilots. ITV West TV production from 2005.

Part 1 – “Episode 01 of a three-part series telling the story of the Air Transport Auxiliary (A.T.A.) and the unsung heroes who ferried aircraft from the factories to the front line during the Second World War. This first episode tells of how British Airways director Gerard d’Erlanger came up with the idea of using civilian pilots to support the war effort by transporting mail, VIPs and injured soldiers, officially forming the ATA in September 1939.”

Part 2 “Episode 02 of a three-part series telling the story of the Air Transport Auxiliary (A.T.A.) and the unsung heroes who ferried aircraft from the factories to the front line during the Second World War. This second episode reveals the methods by which these civilian pilots were trained to fly so many different types of aircraft, and how the Air Transport Auxiliary’s use of female pilots made it unique in wartime Britain, a policy of sexual equality that other employers took years to embrace.”

Part 3 – “Episode 03 of a three-part series telling the story of the Air Transport Auxiliary (A.T.A.) and the unsung heroes who ferried aircraft from the factories to the front line during the Second World War. This third episode tells of how, sixty years on, members of the Air Transport Auxiliary reunited at RAF Lyneham to reminisce about absent friends and the World War Two flying missions that saw them risking their lives to ferry aircraft and supplies to Europe. They also discuss how female pilots found it hard to get work on commercial airlines after the conflict finished.”

Men and women who flew with the ATA are special because they did extraordinary things. “To us, in a world of regulation, licences and certificates, the idea of flying six different planes in one day is unbelievable, particularly when you consider that they [ATA ferry pilots] would be seeing some of those planes for the first time. Nowadays it just would not be allowed to happen” (Richard Poad, MBE in the Foreword to Hyams, J ‘The Female View’ (2012). Published by The History Press.)

 

Rex Morris

Rex Morris
Rex Morris, Aero Engineer at 22MU Silloth Airport between 1942-1947

 

Rex Morris, Engineer at Silloth 22MU from July 1942
Rex Morris, Aero Engineer at 22MU Silloth Airport between 1942-1947. Photo 2014

Rex Morris arrived in Silloth with his lifelong friend George Doughty. Both young men were posted to Silloth 22MU in July 1942 from RAF Wroughton. Similar to George, Rex has many a tale to tell about his experiences in Silloth during the War Years. Below, are a few stories written in 2000 about his time at RAF Wroughton and afterwards at Silloth Airfield, where he  set to work as a civilian engineer. Click on the image to enlarge his ebook Pages 1-9.  Then click the small + icon on left hand side of reader to enlarge further, or drag the image to make it bigger.

Rex Morris story - pages 1-9

Click on the image below to enlarge Rex’s handwriting in the ebook Pages 10-17. Then click the small + icon on left hand side of reader to enlarge further, or drag the image to make it bigger.

Rex Morris Story Part 2 9-17

Clips from the video interview with Rex in 2014 to follow when processed.

George Doughty

George and Elsie Doughty
George and Elsie Doughty
George Doughty Football_0001
No 22 MU Football Team. Photo courtesy Pam Coates 

L-R Back row – George Kewell Senior, George Doughty, George Kewell Jnr, John Hurt , (?), (?)(policman, George Dixon (Trainer)

Front Row – Bob Kirkpatrick, Bill Shepherd, Ronnie Blake, Paddy Halpin, Jim Stitt, Arthur Cooper (Committee)

George Doughty came to Silloth as a nineteen year old civilian. He arrived with his life-long friend Rex Morris in July 1942 from 15MU Wroughton. The young men took up posts as engineers at Silloth 22MU.  Here below is George’s story with reference also to Rex in many sections. The e-book is 22 pages long with George’s story about life in Silloth beginning on Page 12. Click on the image to enlarge.

The George Doughty Story

Note this story was written by George himself and has not been abridged in any way. The annotations were also made by George.

Acknowledgement: George Doughty Archives

Stories from George Doughty Archive

The following has been extracted from a letter dated 2nd June 2000, written by the late George Doughty to a friend. George tells some humorous stories about personnel and events associated with Silloth Airfield. 

“[…] I have had further communication with Bill Sparkes the F/Eng. He proffered the suggestion that I’d written Jack when his name is Bill also known as Ned. He told me a great story of him and Rocky Scheerboom collecting a Dak. To bring it back to silloth. They heard that the weather was “iffy” but thought they would get nearer home any way. They overflew Hawarden and asked them for Silloth weather and they agreed that it wasn’t good but they pushed on, thought they would have a look for themselves.

The Silloth weather was terrible. Pouring with rain cloud right down to the deck and visibility just not good enough, so they turned back over the sea and went south. As they approached Walney Island they thought that would be OK but getting dark. Rocky said, “I think we should have the nav. lights on” “where’s the switch?” says Bill. Rocky didn’t know. By this time it was getting dark and they were proceeding on finals, and they needed the cockpit instrument lights, to read the ASI. They didn’t know where the switches were’ Bill says “It finished up with me, striking matches with my nose almost touching the glass, shouting out the speed s as we landed.”

What followed was equally amusing. Having waited a while and going across to an empty tower, they realised it was an abandoned airfield. However “Mr Plod” turned up to find out what was going on. So they told their story of trying to get it up to silloth and was told that they couldn’t  put a guard on the aircraft and Rocky thought they would have to stay with it all night. Things softened after a pint in the canteen and a game of snooker with the boys in blue and eventually they got digs in Barrow. A double bed having to be shared. In later years Bill said, he was reading and shouted to his wife “Rocky Scheerboom is in the Aircrew Association Magazine.” “Did you know him then? “Know him, I’ve slept with him.”

He told of another trip with Rocky bringing a Lincoln down from Lossiemouth on a Friday afternoon’ The ETA was 17.30 hrs so they thought with a little throttle bending they might be OK, however, on arrival the aerodrome was closed so they would just have to see if anyone was about and leave it.  Going round the peri-track Rocky said “Clear right?” and Bill said “OK,” As Rocky leaned over to check there was a tremendous bang and about 3 feet of the port wing was knocked off on the girder work that the hangar door travels on when open. All they could do was park it and leave it. It looked terrible! He said “I never heard another thing about it. I don’t know if Rocky did.” From that I can only assume it was a scrapper they were moving down to Silloth, hence no problems, straight down to F site.

Bill, like Ed, had a tour behind him on ops. with Bomber Command 431 Sqdn. RCAF and came out when he was 55 years of age in 1979 as Fl.Lt after leaving the service in 1947 and rejoining in 1948 .

His letter shows he was at silloth when George Duffy was the CO. and P/O Dodds was always on the taxi aircraft and when Ft.Lt. Leo de Vigne went to Westlands on demob. He writes most amusingly. Any memories yet?

Another letter I have just written is to an ex22MU test pilot. He lives on the Isle of Man and his name is Bill Hasselstrom. [….private section not included here…] . He was on 6cOTU and had a problem with night vision so stood down and flew the Martinet, on drogue towing’. Then after an ATA Test pilots course, they posted him to the MU. in JUne 1944.

In Aug. 1945 posted to the Test Pilots Pool at RAF Lyneham. He lodged at Nith view with Mrs Wilson. He flew Hurricanes, Oxfords, Ansons and the early Mk.1 Mustangs and then after another course later on tested Wellinglons and Hudsons while at Silloth.”

Acknowledgement: George Doughty Archives.